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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 12:35 GMT
'Arson attacks' hit US churches
A firefighter surveys the remains of the Morning Star Baptist Church, Alabama
Concrete steps and a handrail are all that remain of one church
Nine Baptist churches in the US state of Alabama have been hit in a week of suspected arson attacks, police say.

Four were set alight in the west of the state on Tuesday, a few days after five had been torched in central Alabama.

State and federal investigators say they believe the fires may be linked and are investigating them as arson.

No motive has been given for the fires. A decade ago, 30 churches in the US south-east were set alight in suspected racially motivated attacks.

Only one of the churches burned this week had a predominantly black congregation, while three were mainly white, state officials said.

The arson strikes in 1995 and 1996 targeted mainly black congregation churches.

'A sickness'

The four latest attacks in Alabama took place at churches off rural roads, some 10 to 20 miles (16-32km) apart, police said.

The wooden-framed Morning Star Baptist Church in Boligee was completely destroyed by the fire, with only the front steps and handrail left standing.

Map of the US showing Alabama

"I don't know what's going on," local churchgoer Johnny Archibold told the Associated Press news agency. "It's just sickness."

FBI acting assistant director Chip Burrus told AP that there was clearly a suspected link between the nine fires.

Investigators have already concluded that at least some of the fires were started deliberately. A reward has been offered for information.

The Baptist Church is the dominant faith in the area. Four of the churches affected are members of the Southern Baptist Convention.

"My heart goes out to the pastors and the members of those churches, especially the churches whose buildings were burned to the ground," said convention president Morris Chapman.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of black-congregation churches in Alabama and neighbouring states were burned down by opponents of the US civil rights movement.

Fire destroys historic US church
07 Jan 06 |  Americas
State profile: Alabama
22 Dec 03 |  Americas

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